“The New England Primer,” was published in Boston in the 1680s or 90s. It was one of the earliest books in this country which mothers used to teach their children to read. It was filled with Bible verses from the KJV and with theology – both good and bad. On one page was a little poem to be used as a prayer by children – “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Through the years there have been dozens of different forms to that prayer – such as. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, His Love to guard me through the night, And wake me in the morning’s light.” “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. May the angels watch me through the night, and keep me in their blessed sight.”
What has that poem got to do with our scripture from Proverbs? Look at verse 24 once again – “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.” There are millions of Americans who, for various reasons, do not sleep well – do not sleep “sweetly.” Some times there are physical reasons for their lack of sleep. But there may be ten times as many emotional things which disturb them –either once in a while or all the time – night after night.
Solomon doesn’t try to cure anyone of sleep apnea, although the Lord certainly could do that. Solomon doesn’t have a pill for a bad prostate or other physical things which wake us up. But he does outline a few things which could help any child of God to sleep better. Are we interested in sleeping sweetly? Are we interested in those things necessary for pleasant sleep?
Solomon suggests that we fill our hearts with good and pleasant things.
“My son, let not them depart from thine eyes” – verse 21. What are the “them” to which he refers? Aren’t they the ingredients of wisdom and knowledge? The context says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.” “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.”
Two of the things which disrupt sleep are disturbing dreams and the unbidden provocation of memories. How many children have been awakened in the middle of the night with nightmares caused by something they saw or watched late that day? Maybe it was a bloody movie they saw at a neighbor’s house, or a young people’s novel about witchcraft. Isn’t it logical to think that if we filled our heads and hearts with good things, there would be less likelihood of our unconscious minds turning to evil things during the night?
The world is filled with enough evil to give every human being on the planet a constant overdose. Paul and Solomon are quite right in telling us that we must deliberately choose to think on the best things. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” “My Son, let not them depart from thine eyes.” The choice is ours. With things being otherwise equal, who is going to sleep better, the brother who considers things lovely, virtuous and praise-worthy? Or the man who fills himself with horror movies and CNN news clips of terrorist activity ten thousand miles away?
After this Solomon suggests – don’t compromise your conscience – “Keep sound wisdom and discretion.”
It is one thing to know what things are true, honest and just. It is another thing to earnestly strive to bring one’s life into harmony with that which is perfect. Moses said, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.”
If this morning I was walking through a store, and I slipped some item into my pocket not intending to pay for it, I would hope the Lord would keep me from sleeping tonight. Have you uttered any lies today? If so, as a Christian, I hope that loose sleep over your sin. Have you lost your temper? Have you deliberately refused the leadership of the Spirit in some way? I hope that your conscience is as sharp as it ought to be. And, I hope that as you lay your head down tonight it will be with a clear conscience.
If you’d like to sleep better, go to bed after a day giving away more smiles than frowns.
“So shall thy be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.” A part of Christian maturity is the ability to look back on 16 or 18 hours of godly service and righteousness. Isn’t there a blessing to the soul to be able to humbly say, “By God’s grace, I have spent this day in a fashion which pleases the Saviour”? Isn’t there somnific peace in knowing we have walked in the Lord’s wisdom for a few hours?
“So shall thy be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.” What is implied by “grace to thy neck?” Isn’t it talking about beauty. You may not think of yourself as physically beautiful – don’t waste your time on such things. There are ways in which anyone can become beautiful through becoming a blessing to others. Can you go to bed remembering the blessing your life has been to someone? You might sleep better.
Verse 27 – “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” This in particular would a great verse to embroider onto lace and hang above the door in a beautiful frame. Would the Lord be upset if you tattooed in on the back of your arm so you could see it every few minutes? He probably would. But it certainly should be memorized and reviewed regularly.
What happens when you go out of your way to minister something good to a person in need? Not always, but usually, your act of kindness will bring a smile to the face of the recipient. Of course if your kindness is evangelism, the response might not be positive, but “a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul” usually enlists a smile. Solomon is eventually going to tell us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Aren’t there images which make you smile? Why can’t you create that kind of image yourself? Going the extra mile, providing an extra smile for someone. “The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” Isaiah 50:4.
I hope that I’ve made the right assessment about this – Most people on the average day pillow their heads after leaving the day in a neutral condition. They have done their duty, but rarely anything more or less. A few leave the day – and the world – in a better or happier condition. But more than a few leave it worse then when the sun first arose. Wouldn’t you sleep better, if as you have gone through your nightly ritual and placed your head on your pillow, if you could think back on people whom you have blessed? Who have you complimented? Who have you encouraged? Did you use that clerk’s name, as you earnestly thanked her for her service? Did you lend anyone a hand, even though it cost you a few minutes of time? Did you tip your hat to anyone, or wait an extra moment holding a door open. “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” Wouldn’t the practice of this verse help us all to sleep more sweetly?
And doesn’t verse 23 suggest that absence of regret? “Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.” “Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.” The opposite of leaving blessings with others, and the joy that brings, is stumbling and bumbling through the day, stirring up dust and problems. That kind of fella doesn’t deserve a good night’s rest. Don’t be like him.
Solomon says, if you want to sleep well, don’t worry over mere possibilities.
“Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.” Have you ever gone to bed worried that the wing of a airplane would fall through the roof of your bedroom? Why not? Isn’t that a possibility? Has your sleep been delayed because you were afraid of a buffalo stampede or cobra’s under your bed?
We live in an increasingly wicked world – there is no doubt about that. What is the likelihood that North Korea would try to knock out the tanker planes at Fairchild A.F.B.? Have any of the homes in your neighborhood been burgled by drug addicts? Is the AntiChrist in the world at this moment? Are we just a months away from Armageddon?
We can choose to be worried over silly unlikelihoods or over genuine possibilities. And we can choose not to be worried over them. I have Canadian friends who appear to be terrified by the politics of the United States, when most American’s are not. It’s a matter of choice, isn’t it? I refuse to dwell on ISIS attacks or what the homosexuals and liberals might do to me. They are not going to disturb my sleep tonight – because….
My confidence is in the sovereign God who loves me.
“For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.” Or if I might edit the scripture to suit my sermon – “He shall keep thy sleep from being taken.” Yes, the first chapters of the Tribulation could begin tomorrow. But if that is the case, then I expect to be translated tonight – sometime during my sleep. Even so come Lord Jesus. Oh, but some foretaste of the Tribulation could precede the my translation. Even if that is true, the details of those troubles are not entirely in men’s hands – the sovereign God controls all things. “I shall trust and not be afraid.”
And so when I get into bed tonight, pulling the sheet up over my shoulders, I expect to fall asleep within thirty seconds and sleep until my alarm goes off or some physical need awakens me. I trust what the Holy Spirit tells me through Solomon. “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.”